The next government is being urged to accelerate the establishment of a National Savings Fund and impose mandatory provident funds to bolster savings for the ageing population.
“The country should think seriously about developing a savings and investment culture, and it needs to educate people to develop financial literacy at a faster and stronger pace,” said Veerathai Santiprabhob, adviser to the Thailand Development Research Institute. “Our households are shouldering higher debt and moving to the ageing society. So, people should have the ability to manage their money and prepare financially for their retirement.”
The National Savings Fund was initiated by the previous Democrat-led government with the aim of extending pension coverage to those who are not covered by any pension scheme.
However, the Yingluck Shinawatra government shelved the scheme, saying it overlaps with Section 40 of the Social Security Fund Act, which covers providing pensions to workers in the non-formal sector.
Under Section 40, self-employed workers have two choices in contributing to the Social Security Fund for pensions.
They can contribute 70 baht a month while the government offers 30 baht to the fund, or they can contribute 130 baht a month while the government chips in 50 baht per month.
The government previously estimated 35 million workers are not covered by the Government Pension Fund, the Social Security Fund and private provident funds, and most of them are self-employed such as street vendors or taxi drivers.
The National Savings Fund’s planned set-up has been put in the Capital Market Development Master Plan.
Mr Veerathai said the National Saving Fund is necessary and its size should be larger than its plan mapped out in the past, while mandatory provident funds should be enforced.
At present, only companies on the Thai stock market are obliged to make provident funds available to their employees.
Teera Phutrakul, chairman of the Thai Financial Planners Association, said the current retirement system and provident funds deny most people a pleasant life after retirement, because most savings are ploughed into low-risk, low-return debt instruments.
He suggested the government go cold turkey, in the manner of the Singaporean government, by requiring a contribution of 20% of its people’s monthly income to a central provident fund.
“I believe people have financial literacy,” Mr Teera said. “They read and learn that credit cards and personal loans charge them 20% and 28%, respectively, at most. But they still lack financial discipline and we need to cultivate their financial discipline.”
First published: Bangkok Post, April 7, 2014